Robert Todd Carroll
The Bible (or Torah) Code
The Bible (or Torah) Code is a code alleged to have been intentionally embedded in the Bible. The code is revealed by searching for equidistant letter sequences (ELS). For example, start with any letter ("N") and read every nth letter ("D") thereafter in the book, not counting spaces. If an entire book such as Genesis is searched, the result is a long string of letters. Using different values for "N" and "D", one can generate many strings of letters. Imagine wrapping the string of letters around a cylinder in such a way that all the letters can be displayed. Flatten the cylinder to reveal several rows with columns of equal length, except perhaps the last column which might be shorter than all the rest. Now search for meaningful names in proximity to dates. Search horizontally, vertically, diagonally, any which way. A group of Israeli mathematicians did just this and claimed that when they searched for names in close proximity to birth or death dates (as published in the Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel) they found many matches. Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg published their findings in the journal Statistical Science (1994, Vol. 9, No. 3, 429-438) under the title of "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis." The editor of the journal commented:
That is, the probability of getting the results they did was 16 out of one million or 1 out of 62,500. The authors state: "Randomization analysis shows that the effect is significant at the level of 0.00002 [and] the proximity of ELS's with related meanings in the Book of Genesis is not due to chance." Harold Gans, a former cryptologist at the US Defense Department, replicated the work of the Israeli team and agreed with their conclusion. Witztun later claimed that, according to one measure, the probability of getting these results by chance is 1 in 4 million. Though he has apparently changed his mind and now claims that the probability is p = 0.00000019 (1 out of 5.3 million). Jason Browning, a creation scientist, claims that the first five books of the Bible contain hidden word patterns that have been "shown mathematically to be impossible to have occurred by chance." Browning does not mention who did the math for him.
As further evidence of the statistical significance of their results, the Israeli team analyzed the Hebrew version of the Book of Isaiah and the first 78,064 characters of a Hebrew translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace. They found many names in close proximity to birth or death dates, but the results were statistically insignificant. (The Book of Genesis used in their study, the Koren version, has 78,064 characters.)
What does this all mean? To some it means that the patterns in Genesis are intentional and that God is the ultimate author of the code. If so, should the Book of Isaiah, and any other book in the Bible that fails the ELS test, be dumped? Should we conclude that these statistics verify the claim that the Jews are the chosen people of God or that no more names should be added to list of Great Men in Israel unless they pass the ELS test? Unless other religions can duplicate such statistically improbable results, the mathematically minded supernaturalist might well consider them to be imposters. Should we translate all the sacred books of all the religions of the world into Hebrew and see how many great men of Israel are encoded there? Many of us are at a loss at what to make of such astounding numbers.
Can a computer really read the mind of God? Apparently. For on this theory God dictated in His favorite language, Hebrew, a set of words which are more or less intelligible if taken at face value, containing stories of creation, floods, fratricide, wars, miracles, etc., with many moral messages. But this Hebrew God chose his words carefully, encoding the Bible with prophecies and messages of absolutely no religious value.
Many, however, are not at a loss at all. Some Christian "creation scientists" are claiming the Bible Code provides scientific proof of God's existence. If they are right, they should convert to Judaism. Doran Witztum can't do that, since he is already a Jew. But he has taken the work done on Genesis a bit further than his colleagues. Witztum went on Israeli television and claimed that the names of the sub-camps on a map of Auschwitz appeared remarkably close to the phrase "in Auschwitz." The odds of such occurring, he said, are "one in a million." Some of his students did the math and claim their mentor was off by "a factor of 289,149." Witztum's math may not be as good as his intentions, but it is difficult to see what those intentions might be. Was God revealing in an odd way that the sub-camps of Auschwitz are in Auschwitz?
Michael Drosnin and admirers of his popular book, The Bible Code, are claiming that decoding the Bible allegedly leads to the discovery of prophecies and profound truths of a secular nature, not all of which are related to the Jews. Drosnin claims that the Bible is the only text in which these encoded phrases are found in a statistically significant pattern, and that the chance of this being a random phenomenon is unlikely. Using the ELS method, Drosnin claims that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was foretold in the Bible. He also claims that the assassinations of Anwar Sadat and the Kennedy brothers are encoded in Biblical ELS. At last, someone has found a truly useful purpose for computers: doing ELS analyses of Biblical texts in search of hidden messages of a secular nature. The Lord loveth a puzzle.
Not everybody agrees with the Drosnin hypothesis, including Harold Gans, the retired Defense Department cryptologist who corroborated the work of Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg. Gans has published a statement regarding The Bible Code and other similar books. In part, the statement reads
Dr.Eliyahu Rips, one of the authors of the study that started the Bible Code craze, has also made a public statement regarding Drosnin's Bible Code.
Professor Menachem Cohen, a celebrated Bible scholar at Bar-Ilan University, has criticized Witztun et. al. on two counts: (1) there are several other Hebrew versions of Genesis for which ELS does not produce statistically significant results; and (2) the appellations given to the Great Men in Israel was inconsistent and arbitrary. The Professor makes some good points, but perhaps this just proves that the Koren version is the correct one and that the appellations chosen are the most fitting for these great men of Israel.
Other critics, such as Brendan McKay, have done their own analysis of War and Peace with remarkably different results than those reported by Witztum et. al. Many critics, however, have done little more than use ELS to find names, dates, etc., in various books, a feat already known by even the puniest of statisticians to be unremarkable. However, Drosnin seemed to ask for such when he said "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them." McKay promptly produced an ELS analysis of Moby Dick predicting not only Indira Ghandi's assassination, but the assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Yitzhak Rabin, as well as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Mathematician David Thomas did an ELS on Genesis and found the words "code" and "bogus" close together not once but 60 times. What are the odds of that happening? Does this mean that God put in a code to reveal that there is no code? The way of the Lord is mysterious, indeed.
Thomas, David E. "Hidden Messages and The Bible Code," Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 1997.
Witztum, D., E. Rips and Y. Rosenberg, "On Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis," Statistical Science, 9 (1994), 429-438.
Robert Todd Carroll